My first job was in 1993 for Mockbeggar Theatre Company in a play called Against the Grain. But I would like to talk about a more recent first job: my first feature film, the award-winning Bohemian Rhapsody.
A D/deaf actor was needed to play the father of Mary Austin, Freddie Mercury’s former partner. A friend had spotted the job and my agent put me forward. They came back quickly wanting a showreel, an up-to-date photo and a CV. My heart was beating so fast. I went to panic stations to get everything sent off in time.
I settled in for that cruel wait for a response, but luckily I was contacted the next day. Then everything happened so quickly – meetings, booking British Sign Language interpreters, new headshots, signing contracts and non-disclosure agreements. The hardest thing was keeping it a secret from my family and friends.
A big production with a large cast and crew, it wasn’t a naturally D/deaf-friendly environment, but it was welcoming. It helped to be given the time to rehearse, meet and get to know everyone. This gave me the opportunity to explain what I needed as a D/deaf actor and how my character would react to the scene.
Throughout the filming process, I had to pay attention to what was going on around me and relied on my interpreters to interpret not only direction, but also the environment. For example, in rehearsal and during shooting, while setting up the scene, it was important for me to know the camera positions and understand the vision of the director and director of photography. It was an incredible experience and proved that it’s good to network and promote your own profile.
There is so much the industry can do, not only in film, but TV and theatre, to employ more D/deaf actors whose first language is sign language, not just to play D/deaf characters, but for any role. I would ask theatremakers to expand these opportunities. It’s essential to show D/deaf role models, not only to inspire other D/deaf creatives but to broaden the horizons of audiences.
Training: Theatre for the Deaf, Reading University
Theatre includes: Frozen (Birmingham Rep/ Fingersmiths), Blasted, Bent (Graeae), Twelfth Night, Don Quixote, and The Picture of Dorian Grey (Show of Hands Theatre Company), Mountain Language (In Tandem/Ovalhouse)
TV/film includes: Talk to Me (ITV), Mark Thomas Show (Channel 4), Timewatch (BBC), Bohemian Rhapsody (film 2018)
Agent: APM Associates
Neil Fox-Roberts was talking to John Byrne